Judson College Alabama’s only college specifically for women, Judson College was founded by Baptists in 1838 to provide women with a higher education. Located in Marion, Perry County, Judson was the nation’s fifth oldest women’s college and home of the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. In addition to 18 majors and 24 minors, Judson offered 11 pre-professional programs and a distance learning program toward a bachelor’s degree for student who cannot attend classes on campus. The college ceased operations in May 2021.
The Judson Female Institute was named in honor of Ann Hasseltine Judson, wife of Adonarium Judson, both Baptist missionaries. Alabama Baptists organized Judson Collegiate Institute to educate women in the “finer” facets of womanhood, which included proficiency in needlework, dancing, drawing, and penmanship, but also to promote their mastery of theology, literature, and fine arts. Although other academies for young women were already in existence, even in Marion, Judson’s curriculum was designed to offer more rigorous academic standards than others of its day.
Judson founders included Gen. Edwin King, who provided financing; Julia Tarrant Barron, who rented a building for the school; and James H. DeVotie, pastor of Siloam Baptist Church in Marion. In 1838, this group met with Milo Parker Jewett, a Baptist theologian and recognized leader in women’s education from Vermont who was touring the South. The group agreed to establish a Baptist institution dedicated to educating women, and Jewett agreed to act as principal. On January 7, 1839, Judson Female Institute opened its doors for the first session, hosting six women and three men. By May, that number had risen to 47. The supporters of the school chose a Board of Trustees, with Edwin D. King as chair and Larking Young Tarrant as Steward. Other trustees were John Lockhart, James Goree, William Easley Blassingame, Francis Lowry, O. G. Eiland, and Langston Goree.
Ann Hasseltine Judson Officials at Judson requested and were granted an incorporation charter from the Alabama State Legislature on January 9, 1841, and the first commencement was held that July. Also in January, Jewett Hall was completed. The school also published its first catalog, containing rules, regulations, and a curriculum that included English grammar, foreign languages, and mathematics. King oversaw the establishment of the Ann Hasseltine Judson Missionary Society, which collected money for missions to China. The following year, King, who was the chief financier of Judson, offered his financial interests in the school to the Alabama Baptist Convention. Upon acceptance of these terms, and because of already close ties with the convention in purpose and leadership, Judson became part of the state convention in 1843. The school was debt free and remained self supporting for many years thereafter.
After almost 15 years as principal, Jewett resigned in 1855, traveling to Poughkeepsie, New York, where he later founded Vassar College. At that time, Judson had 239 students and 17 faculty and staff. The progressive curriculum stressed English, math, foreign languages, history, and the fine arts. Samuel Sterling Sherman (1855-1859), who had served as the first president of Howard College (also in Marion), was chosen by the board of trustees to lead the school. Although the president was largely in charge of school management, the institution was also subject to the control of the board of trustees. Sherman resigned in 1859, foreseeing problems from sectional differences.
During much of the Civil War, Noah Knowles Davis (1859-64) led Judson, keeping the school open. Although fighting took place nearby, it never reached Marion. Judson students and faculty, however, experienced inflationary prices for goods and shortages of food, fuel, cloth, and books. Jesse G. Nash succeeded Davis, leading the institution from 1864 to April 1865, when Judson closed its spring session early; graduates received diplomas and were sent home. Archibald John Battle (1865-72) was president when the school began the October 1865 session with 200 students. In 1866, however, the threat of a smallpox outbreak led many students to leave, causing shortages of funding and a period of indebtedness. In 1868, the Society of Alumnae of the Judson Female Institute was formed to help its alma mater. Following Battle in the presidency, Richard H. Rawlings (1872-75), Martin T. Sumner (1875-76), and Luther Rice Gwaltney (1876-82) all worked to increase enrollment, lower indebtedness, and improve the curriculum.
Robert Frazier (1882-87) followed Gwaltney as president in 1882. Under his tenure, Jewett Hall was renovated and the institution became debt free. Frazier stepped down in 1887 because of ill health and was followed by Samuel Wooten Averett (1887-96). During his tenure, Averett led a revision of the curriculum; women were first appointed as principals of academic departments, and Judson Echoes was introduced as the student publication of the Fidelian Society, an organization aimed at encouraging writing. On November 24, 1888, Jewett Hall burned to the ground, forcing classes to meet in rented buildings in Marion. The cornerstone of the second Jewett Hall was laid in May 1889; classes resumed in it the following October.
Judson College Mortar and Pestle Averett died suddenly in 1896; subsequent presidents Robert Goodlett Patrick (1896-13), Paul Bomar (1913-23), and Edward Vincent Baldy (1923-30), continued Averett’s reforms. Jewett Hall was expanded, and Alumnae Auditorium, the president’s home, and Carnegie Library (financed by Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie), were added to the campus. Convinced of the strength of Judson’s academic standing, the Alabama State Legislature amended Judson’s charter in 1903, creating Judson College. In 1910, Judson became a charter member of the Alabama Association of Colleges, followed by membership in both the Association of Women’s Colleges in the South and the American Association of Colleges in 1919; it was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1925. A student newspaper, The Triangle, appeared in 1924 and is still published today.
Harry Henderson Clark became president in 1930 and was confronted by the Great Depression and financial turmoil in the Alabama Baptist Convention. A convention committee considered merging Judson with Howard College and Newton Institute in Dale County but ultimately decided the schools should stand alone. Satisfied that Judson would remain independent, Clark resigned the presidency in 1931.
Teacher and pastor Leroy Geach Cleverdon (1931-41) accepted the presidency in 1931. He implemented innovations in the curriculum and expanded student government. Judson’s music program was accredited in 1934, and it joined the National Association of Schools of Music. During its centennial year in 1938, Judson again was in financial trouble, and members of the Alabama Baptist Convention again discussed a merger as a solution. Although Judson remained independent, Cleverdon was pressured to resign and was replaced by Leroy Richard Priest (1941-43). Priest, having served as a trustee and aware of Judson’s dire financial situation, made significant strides to improve this situation. He visited every creditor and asked for additional time for Judson to become solvent. Although not every creditor agreed to be patient, Priest saw that every debt was eventually paid. During World War II, many Judson women left school to join the armed forces or take government and factory jobs. Priest also resigned, entering the army in 1943, and John Ingle Riddle served as president from 1943-1960. Judson rebounded financially after the war, assisted by a temporary influx of World War II veterans using the GI Bill as well as men from Marion Military Institute and Craig Air Force base in Selma.
Lightning struck the dome atop Jewett Hall on July 15, 1947, and in a matter of hours, the building was lost to fire. School trustees approved plans in October 1948 to build the third Jewett Hall, which students entered in September 1951; further additions to Jewett were completed by 1955. Riddle was succeeded by Conwell A. Anderson (1960-1965), who planned to make Judson the model Christian liberal arts colleges for women. Anderson addressed the school’s budgeting system and faculty retention problems, provided extension learning centers in Selma, Alexander City, and Demopolis, and opened the campus for outside workshops. He also implemented an innovative and popular degree program that allowed students to complete their requirements for a four-year degree in two years and 10 months, while still maintaining the traditional four-year degree program.
In 1963, a special committee appointed by the state convention studied three operating possibilities for Judson to remain competitive: changing to a two-year junior college, continuing as a private institution but not as part of the convention, or merging with Mobile College or Marion Military Institute. On November 13, 1965, the convention voted for Judson to retain its independence by 11 votes. Also at that time, the board of trustees voted against becoming a coeducational institution.
James Huey Edmondson (1966-1969), who became president of Judson on January 1, 1966, took control during the turbulent civil rights era. Judson remained relatively calm, however, because of its philosophy of open communication among students and faculty. In 1968, Judson accepted six African American women as students, and references in the charter to “white females” were revised to read “females” in 1973. Edmundson resigned in 1969, and in June 1970, Henry Norman McCrummen (1970-90) accepted the position. Also that month, at the suggestion of academic dean Charles Tyer, the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame was established on the campus to honor women who had made significant contributions to Alabama. Housed in the Carnegie Library, the first inductees were Hallie Farmer, Helen Keller, and Julia Tutwiler.
McCrummen strengthened Judson’s ties with Baptists by creating a board of governors and increased communications with non-Baptists through a board of advisors. He created the President-Faculty Council and the President-Student Council to improve external relations. McCrummen’s fiscal shrewdness and sound planning encouraged support, and alumnae and friends rallied in support during fund-raising campaigns for additional dormitory space and educational facilities.
Judson College Equestrian Team Beginning in 1968, Judson allowed Judson and Marion Military Institute students to register for courses on both campuses. Judson women were able to enroll in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) for two years without incurring military obligation or receiving ROTC financial assistance if they enrolled for two additional years of training. In 1969, the University of Alabama and Judson formed a professional graduate educational program, enabling Judson students to earn graduate credits without commuting to Tuscaloosa. In 1972, Judson reestablished a long-dormant Equine Science program and in 1981, created the Adult Degree Program that permitts students to receive a bachelor’s degree and teacher certification.
David E. Potts (1990-2018 ), Vice President for Administration, took over from McCrummen in 1990. Potts’s tenure saw a significant rise in endowments and building improvements. He was replaced by Mark Tew in 2018. In 2021, Daphne Rudicell Robinson became what would be the last president of Judson College. Facing increasing indebtedness and declining enrollment, the college closed after the spring term in 2021.
Throughout its history, Judson women participated in sports. In the competitive arena, Judson women played basketball and volleyball. Intramural sports included field hockey and basketball. Judson colors were red and black, and the school had many traditions that unite alumni of many decades. One of the most significant, begun in September 1915, was Rose Sunday. It was celebrated on the first Sunday of the fall semester; the entire student body lined up along the front walk and, with seniors leading the way, walked to Siloam Baptist Church to pay tribute to the founders of Judson and to emphasize the tie between Siloam Baptist Church and Judson College. Seniors dressed in their academic regalia and wore Judson’s signature flower, the rose. Another of the most favored traditions was the “Stepsing,” which concluded many special weekends or school occasions. Gathering on the steps of Jewett Hall, students and alums sang the songs passed down from generation to generation of students.
Hamilton, Francis Dew and Elizabeth Crabtree Wells. Daughters of the Dream: Judson College, 1838-1988. Marion, Ala.: Judson College, 1989.
Manly, Louise. History of Judson College. Atlanta: Foote & Davis, 1913.